African American Cemeteries

God's Acre: Locating and Preserving Historic Black Graveyards

Dr. Rainville has been studying historic American graveyards since 1990; in 2001 she began studying slave cemeteries. This project eventually expanded to a 10-year project to locate, study, and disseminate information about historic African American cemeteries in Virginia. In 2014 she published a book about her findings, Hidden History: African American Cemeteries in Central Virginia (University of Virginia Press).

Publications related to Historic African American Cemeteries

2015 "Learning from God's Acre: locating and protecting historic African American Cemeteries,"Journal of the Afro-American Historical Genealogical Society,Vol. 31 & 32, 18-30.

2014 "Six Degrees of Separation: Using Social Media and Digital Platforms to Enhance African American History Projects," in Interpreting African American History and Culture at Museums & Historic Sites.Rowan & Littlefield.

2009 “Protecting our shared heritage in African-American cemeteries,”Journal of Field Archaeology 34:2: 195-206.

2009 “Home at Last: mortuary commemoration in Virginian slave cemeteries.” Markers: Annual Journal of the Association for Gravestone Studies, vol. XXVI: 54-83.

2008 “Social Memory and Plantation Burial Grounds: a Virginian Example.” African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, Spring 2008, 27 pages. Hosted on-line by the University of Illinois: www.diaspora.uiuc.edu/newsletter.html.

2003 “An Investigation of an Enslaved Community and Slave Cemetery at Mt. Fair, in Brown’s Cove, Virginia.” The Magazine of Albemarle County History 61:1-26. Winner of the Annual 2003 Rawlings Prize (sponsored by the Historic Society).

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Funeral Records from the J.F. Bell Funeral Home in Charlottesville Virginia

The following information about African Americans buried in Albemarle County has been collected from copies of death certificates and from J.F. Bell Funeral Home records. This project involved a collaboration between the J.F. Bell Funeral Home and the African-American Genealogy Group. Out of respect for the dead and living relatives, information on cause of death, the address of the deceased, occupation, and financial information has been omitted. Information was entered verbatim from the documents, even if the transcriber knew the spelling to be incorrect. Often the "place of burial" is vague or even, on occasion, incorrect. Please visit a related site on African American cemeteries to clarify the location of a gravestone.

About the Funeral Home and Bell Family

John Ferris Bell (1890-1959) was born and educated in Petersburg, Virginia. He graduated from Hampton Institute and later trained as a Funeral Director and Mortician in Chicago, Illinois.Mr. Bell opened the J.F. Bell Funeral Home in 1917. It continues today as the oldest family run funeral home in Central Virginia and the area's oldest existing business owned by people of color.

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About the African-American Genealogy Group

The African American Genealogy Group of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, co-founded by Julian Burke and Caruso Brown, first met in 1995. The group actively researches and displays the heritage of African Americans in the community. The group meets on the third Wednesday of each month at the Jefferson School. Visit their website for more information.

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The Rosenwald Schools of Virginia

The Rosenwald Schools were financed jointly by the Julius Rosenwald Fund and local communities between 1917 and 1932. The Fund, established in 1917 by Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, was inspired in large part by Rosenwald's friendship with Booker T. Washington. Washington believed in the power of education and had a vision of generations of African Americans raising themselves up through the opportunities provided by small, rural schools. When the two men met in 1911, Washington's vision found a sponsor and the Julius Rosenwald Fund was born. Rosenwald was approached by Washington to use funds donated to the Tuskegee Institute to construct six schools in Alabama. Impressed with the results, Rosenwald set up the Julius Rosenwald Fund to build schools for African American children across the South. During the 15 years of the fund's existence, the Rosenwald fund helped finance 4,977 new schools, 217 teachers' homes, and 163 shop buildings. In some communities these schools were the first formal school house, in others they replaced dilapidated and unsafe structures. In each case, this program encouraged communities to contribute to the construction of their school and be involved from the ground, up. Sample ImageThis website focuses on the 382 Rosenwald Schools and support buildings built here in Virginia. These schools are found in every region of Virginia (except the four counties in the Appalachian region in the far southwest).They range from small, one-teacher schools, to larger industrial education schools found in cities.

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The Rosenwald Fund provided architectural plans for schoolhouses to communities. These plans were carefully designed to produce a healthy learning environment and the school buildings had to meet the mandatory construction standards established by the Fund. This included adequate light, ventilation, separate outhouses, coatrooms, and quality blackboards and desks. This attention to detail significantly increased the quality of African-American schoolhouses during segregation when white school boards often siphoned off public monies, leaving little or nothing for black schools. Because all the schools were constructed from the same sets of plans, they all have a similar appearance making them easy to recognize to this day.

Preservation Toolkit

In 2008 the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the Tusculum Institute for Local History at Sweet Briar College partnered to create an on-line resource for owners of historic homes.

Toolkit Features

This website-with a special emphasis on Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region-provides the homeowner the tools he or she needs to:

  • weatherize a historic house in a way that is sensitive to its inherent "green" qualities and older materials;
  • renovate a historic home while saving money on energy costs; and,
  • apply for Federal and Virginia (state) rehabilitation tax credits.

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